The appointment of Sarah Mullally as Bishop of London caught many people by surprise. After all it’s the third most important appointment after Canterbury and York. So it poses the question, why exactly is Sarah Mullally seen as appropriate for the post? A quick look at her credentials shows she’s had an impressive record in nursing and has been highly honored for it. However when it comes to the Church she has served six years in local ministry as a team rector (after being a self-supporting deacon) before becoming a residentiary Canon in Salisbury. Rather interestingly, she’s served just two years as the Suffragan bishop of Crediton in the Exeter Diocese. This seems to suggest she’s been fast tracked for her current appointment! So what exactly is going on here?
Now before I go further, I’d like to make clear that despite being a Minister in a Church belonging to the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches this is not a let’s have a go at the ‘Church of England’ post. The theological basis of the Church of England is scripturally based (just check out the 39 articles). I am indebted to having grown up in an Anglican Church where Scripture was faithfully taught, believed and applied. Rather, I am concerned about the agenda in leadership of the Church when there appears to be a fast tracked appointment of another Bishop who seems to favour LGBT equality, whatever her position on marriage is for the moment! I say for the moment as Archbishop Welby seems to have moved along way from the evangelicalism that he happy purported when he was first appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.
What this calls to mind is a very entertaining but thought-provoking episode of ‘Yes Prime Minister’. Jim Hacker has only been Prime Minister short time and is grappling with his responsibility, particularly with the idea of the nuclear option. He meets with an expert who questions when, and if, he would ever press the button. His challenge to Hacker is that in the Cold War it would never be a case of a full frontal assault, but rather what he calls salami tactics, the enemy taking a slice by slice gradually. The only response Hacker gives to the question as to when he would press the button as another metaphorical slice is taken is: “well I might”.
And this is what I feel is happening in the Church of England as gradually the ground is being shifted. Some while back I read Sam Allberry’s post concerning the General Synod’s discussion on sexuality and transgender issues. He lamented that no one really wanted to talk about Scripture and theology other than Evangelicals. No, all the talk was about sharing experience and good disagreement! I’ve read with interest and dismay of Laura Ashworth’s resignation from the Archbishop’s Council. Knowing Laura as a very wise and capable Christian and having watched with interest her progress through the General Synod to this position, I found myself reluctantly understanding her decision as what’s the point of sitting on a Council or Synod if you’re just tolerated, but the moment you raise Scripture as an argument you are, no doubt, politely side-lined! And how can there be good disagreement on Scriptural issues when people won’t engage with Scripture in the first place?
The Church of England is suffering an identity crisis, except it refuses to call it that. It finds itself marginalised due the leadership’s departure from seeking a scriptural basis for what it does and says. But rather than look to Scripture, as Bishop Rob Thomas was courageously saying in a recent interview, it is looking at ways it can align its self with the world while pretending that the C of E is one big happy family! This brings to mind Paul’s warning to the Timothy: ‘For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions’ (1 Timothy 4:3). The sad thing is that the leadership of the Church of England seem happy to comply! But the folly of this brings to mind the words of Charles Haddon Spurgeon who when preaching on Acts 17:6 where Paul and Silas are accused of turning: ‘the world upside down’ commented that it was the wrong way up to start with!
In the end, Conservative Evangelicals are being thrown scraps. I was delighted when Wallace Benn was appointed as Bishop of Lewis and also with Rob Thomas more recent appointment. But one gets the feeling this is just a pat on the head to show Evangelicals are acknowledged but can then be ignored!
I often give thanks in my prayers for those in the Anglican Communion who are making a stand for orthodoxy. The question is how can the battle be won when the opposing parties are not even on the same playing field? Standing for Scripture is a faithful and noble thing to do, but what if it has no effect on the leadership of a denomination because they no longer happy to converse about certain theological issues in Scriptural terms? I personally pray for a future of the Church in this land (we should never make the mistake in thinking this is just a C of E problem) knowing the Lord can bring about revival in His Church. After all: ‘if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?’ David (the psalm’s writer) has already got that one worked out: ‘In the Lord I take refuge’ (Psalm 11:3 and 1). However, Bible believing Anglicans must beware with Evangelicals of other denominations as it can hardly be term a ‘fifth column’ when leadership is increasingly strengthening, not just a liberal approach to Scripture, but a dismissal of all scriptural theology in some of its discussions!